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As a centre-back, receiving praise from Paolo Maldini is the equivalent of Jack Grealish complimenting you on the number of jägerbombs you’ve ordered at the bar on a night out.
And, having just helped AC Milan to their first Serie A title since 2011, Fikayo Tomori will be celebrating just like Man City’s Grealish did this weekend.
Tomori is widely considered to be one of the best defenders in Italy this season
And he played a key role in AC Milan’s first title win in 11 years
The Englishman, who made what some will have perceived as a risky move to Italy last year, has proved any doubters wrong by becoming one of the best centre-backs in Serie A.
He moved to Milan from Chelsea, initially on loan last January, before the club made the move permanent last summer.
And Maldini, who is technical director at the newly-crowned Italian champions, has bigged up the defender, which, coming from one of the greatest of all time, is worth paying attention to.
“Fortunately, I work for a club that has an effect on players. When AC Milan call, the players always listen,” the Milan legend told Sky Sports Italy after Tomori’s initial loan move.
“Fikayo is a player with particular characteristics, pace and intensity, so we thought he could be a good reinforcement for this second half of the season.”
And the respect is seemingly mutual, with Tomori claiming Maldini, along with other AC Milan legends who have achieved huge success at the club, were one of the main reasons he decided to make the move.
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You would imagine that the Scudetto isn’t the last trophy Tomori will get his hands on during his career
The Englishman is seemingly loved by his Milan teammates and their fans
“Before I came here I spoke to Paolo Maldini,” he told The Times in 2021.
“Obviously I knew it was a big club and he said it was a big club – but when I arrived and went to the museum at Casa Milan, saw all the Ballons d’Ors here, the pictures of the greats who have gone before, then the seven Champions League trophies, you really do feel it. Wow.
“When I go to the training ground and see the pictures and names on the wall of people who have set records, like [Andriy] Shevchenko, Maldini, Kaka and [Clarence] Seedorf, and I’m thinking that they’ve all been here, they’ve all sat in these changing rooms, played on these pitches. All those moments fill you with pride. You breathe it in.”
Maldini with Tomori after a Milan win. Game recognises game
Since those legendary players left the club, however, things haven’t been quite the same on the red and black side of the Italian city.
It had been 11 years of heartache for the Rossoneri supporters, who had been yearning for a Scudetto win and were waiting for someone to come in and finally replace some of their heroes from that 2010/11 team.
And this season that has finally happened, with fans making comparisons between players in their current squad and that title-winning team from over a decade ago.
Sandro Tonali is the Andrea Pirlo, Brahim Diaz is the Robinho, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the, well, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
And, understandably, comparisons have been made between Tomori and Thiago Silva, who played a vital part in Milan’s last league win, just as the 24-year-old has this season.
Silva played more minutes for Milan than any other outfield player during their 2010/11 Serie A title-winning season – something which Tomori has also done for them this season.
Comparisons have been made between Silva and Tomori at Milan
And it’s clear to see why after his impressive performances this season
And, just as Maldini alluded, his calmness on the ball, pace, strength, and reading of the game is why those Silva parallels have been made, along with the fact he is adored by the Milan fans.
In that sense, they have almost replaced each other at their respective clubs, with Silva now a key cog in Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea team, having sold Tomori in the summer.
It would have been great to see the two play alongside each other more often than the 60 minutes they were centre-back partners in a 6-0 Carabao Cup win over Barnsley in September 2020.
If you had just read the above and had no idea about who Gareth Southgate’s first-choice England centre-back was heading into the World Cup later this year, there’s a good chance you would have said Fikayo Tomori.
But, as it stands, he has played just 36 minutes of international football for the Three Lions – a half an hour cameo against Andorra and a six-minute spell at right-back in a clash with Kosovo.
Many have argued that Tomori should be starting for England at the World Cup in Qatar
There are still currently six England games scheduled to be played for the World Cup starts at the end of November, which gives Tomori more time to prove why he should be first choice in his defence.
Southgate still seems keen to stick with the Harry Maguire and John Stones partnership, but has recalled Tomori for the forthcoming Nations League fixtures against Hungary, Germany and Italy.
All he can do now is continue doing what he has been doing in Italy. That and get his international boss a ticket to the San Siro next season…
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